The Harvard men’s soccer team has had the rest of their season canceled according to a report in the Harvard Crimson.
The Crimson first reported that the men’s soccer team had produced sexually explicit “scouting reports” on the physical attractiveness of female freshmen recruits. The original report cited a nine-page document sent out over the group’s email list in 2012 that included lewd and inappropriate remarks and rated women with numerical grades, along with the clear implication that this was a continuing tradition.
Harvard Director of Athletics Robert L. Scalise originally responded to the matter by saying the handling of the document should be “an internal Harvard matter” and that “this is not a media thing.”
Now, after further investigation by Harvard’s Office of General Counsel that revealed the practice of “scouting” the women’s team apparently continued into 2016, Scalise has decided to cancel the rest of the men’s soccer team’s season. “The team will forfeit its remaining games and will decline any opportunity to achieve an Ivy League championship or to participate in the NCAA Tournament this year,” Scalise wrote in an email.
The very subjects of the 2012 report that started all of this responded in a fantastic op-ed calling out those who participated in the report, those who stood by and watched it happen, and a society that created the conditions that encouraged and endorsed such behavior.
Canceling the rest of the season was the correct thing to do, especially in light of the fact that Harvard were at the top of the Ivy League conference table and were on the verge of winning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Sports, especially school sports, cannot take precedence over the safety, education, and well-being of students. To continue to let the men’s soccer team compete knowing they engaged in such degrading behavior would send the message that winning is the first and only thing that matters.
Of course, in professional sports, we often see the attitude that winning absolves many crimes, both literal and figurative. But that’s not a reason to let anyone get away with it. Canceling the rest of the season sends the message that not only is this behavior intolerable, but tacitly endorsing it is unacceptable as well. There may have been players who didn’t actively participate - but neither did they appear to tell their teammates to stop, nor did they inform anyone what their teammates were doing. The onus is not on the victims of sexism to always root out and destroy the sources of that sexism. The onus is on the perpetrators to stop. Don’t just teach victims how to stay safe - teach those who would perpetrate a wrong not to do wrong in the first place.
To that extent, further punishment may be warranted. This scouting report and all the attendant sexism that went along with it were the product of an entrenched culture that will require careful digging out. It did not just spring up in a vacuum, and that it took so many years to come to light speaks to just how normalized and accepted it was. Any returning players for next season deserve to be on a very tight probationary leash - perhaps even banned at least another season from playing soccer. Depending on the extent of the behavior and if anyone was particularly leading it, expulsion could even be on the table.
Hopefully the athletes who have now seen their winning season flushed away due to their own actions and tolerance for bad behavior will be able to figure out not only that they were wrong, but why they were wrong, and internalize the lesson. It can be hard at first, when caught and punished, to stop being defensive, accept that you have done something wrong, and do your best not to repeat those actions ever again. But that’s part of learning to be an adult.
As for the women’s team players realizing that their male counterparts, people they might have called friends, have been objectifying and degrading them this entire time, this quote from the women’s op-ed sums it up:
“In all, we do not pity ourselves, nor do we ache most because of the personal nature of this attack. More than anything, we are frustrated that this is a reality that all women have faced in the past and will continue to face throughout their lives. We feel hopeless because men who are supposed to be our brothers degrade us like this. We are appalled that female athletes who are told to feel empowered and proud of their abilities are so regularly reduced to a physical appearance. We are distraught that mothers having daughters almost a half century after getting equal rights have to worry about men's entitlement to bodies that aren't theirs. We are concerned for the future, because we know that the only way we can truly move past this culture is for the very men who perpetrate it to stop it in its tracks.”